Will wine recommendation apps spell the end for sommeliers, critics and experts?
Now, Vivino, and similar apps such as Plonk, have democratised wine and have experts nervously eyeing their CVs for other options. (How much does Oddbins pay per shift these days, anyway?)
Similarly to TripAdvisor, the 21 million users of Vivino rate and comment on wines available on restaurant menus, with their verdicts collated to form the overall grade out of five stars. It also tracks and organises a person’s favourite wines. The wine scanner feature enables users to check the price of a wine, and compare ratings and prices. Plonk, meanwhile, encourages users to share their snaps with their favourite bottle, and helps to match the drink with food.
As a result, wine is demystified and restaurants held more accountable for overcharging customers. If a sommelier thinks a wine is cheap plonk, but 3,000 others disagree then what is their opinion worth? If we've learned anything from 2016, it's that experts are apparently passé.
So, should sommeliers be quaking in their antique leather armchairs?
Tom Harrow is the wine director at the Honest Grapes wine recommendation website. With 15 years experience in the business, and a wine vocabulary in-depth enough to make your palms sweaty, he is a veritable expert.
In 2009, Harrow and his colleagues launched the now-defunct Wine Chap app, seen as a game-changer at the time, where they would review top wines. It later folded due to the sheer amount of data and manpower required.
“There is a hunger for wine apps,” Harrow says “Vivino has empowered consumers and helped demystify wine, so yes, I think it’s been a positive thing and also shows the growing importance of peer-based review.
“These are no longer the days when the word of half a dozen wine critics are taken as gospel.”
He adds that such apps are positive in that they encourage people with a passing interest to understand the rubric so it can develop into a passion.
But, he isn’t afraid that he’ll soon be out of a job. “Let’s be honest, TripAdvisor has its merits but it also has ill-informed idiots making spectacularly pointless and unfair comments. The problem with the peer-to-peer review system is the majority of people don’t always have the expertise to evaluate a wine fairly. That is where a so-called wine expert can breathe easy: there is a place for more informed objective view."
Having studied wines for years, experts have trained their palates to pick up nuances and can use their extensive vocabularies to get to nitty-gritty of what separates a good and great wine. In turn, experts are better able to determine the quality of a wine, the history of the people who make it, the vintage, grape varieties and so on. “Knowledge gives you more than just what’s in the bottle. It gives context,” Harrow argues.
“I think apps are an interesting development and one having an impact but don’t think it’s revolutionary to extent people think it is.”
Chiming with Harrow, wine writer Radka Beach suggests that, if anything, “bad somelliers should certainly be nervous. But so far no app can compete with any passionate sommelier who knows his wine list well and can advise the customer the right wine for his budget.”
For now, sommeliers can make like a good merlot and breathe.
Comment of Wines Inform Assessors:
Normalmente se limitan las valoraciones de los vinos a la percepción de la cata y están orientado a "aconsejar" al comprador final.
Está claro que múltiples comentarios acaban teniendo mayor objetividad que el de una única persona, por entendida que sea (pienso en un reconocido crítico y excelente persona cuyas valoraciones quedan desvirtuadas por el aprecio personal hacia el productor)
Desde el punto de vista de recomendar un vino para ser comprado por importadores o puntos de venta, como hacemos en Wines Inform Assessors, hay muchos otros aspectos a tener en cuenta: precio y política de precios a lo largo del tiempo, continuidad en el tiempo de la calidad, categoría profesional y humana del productor, diseño y calidad de los materiales usados (Botella, cierres, ...), "autenticidad" del vino (métodos de cultivo, variedades de uva usada,...), seriedad y capacidad productiva de la bodega,....
Usually the wine ratings are limited to the perception of the tasting and are oriented to "advise" the final buyer.
It is clear that multiple comments end up having more objectivity than that of a single person, however he were an expert (I think of a recognized critic and excellent person whose valuations are distorted by personal appreciation of the producer)
From the point of view of recommending a wine to be bought by importers or points of sale, as we do in Wines Inform Assessors, there are many other aspects to consider: price and price policy over time, continuity in time of the quality, professional and human category of the producer, design and quality of the materials used (bottle, closures, ...), "authenticity" of the wine (cultivation methods, grape varieties used, production capacity of the winery, ....
Origin information: Independent